Example 3: Documenting Effective HIV Policies and Programs for Women and Girls 

Project Type: Advocacy

The Organization

What Works for Women & Girls
Website:  http://www.whatworksforwomen.org/

What Works for Women & Girls is a comprehensive website documenting the evidence for effective HIV interventions to guide donors, policymakers, and program managers in planning effective HIV policies and programs for women and girls. The resource spans nearly 3,000 reports and articles with more than 450 interventions in nearly 100 countries. (www.whatworksforwomen.org)

What Works has been a collaborative effort. It was originally funded by the Open Society Foundations’ Public Health Program. Currently, it is supported by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and Open Society Foundations. It is carried out under the auspices of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported Health Policy Project at the Futures Group, in collaboration with the Public Health Institute.

The three primary authors of the What Works report bring a unique set of research, gender and communication expertise that enable the resource to be both technically rigorous and widely accessible. Moreover, each of the sections of What Works underwent extensive peer review from experts in the respective areas, ensuring that all of the key literature was included and put into context. The massive undertaking of creating What Works across the spectrum of HIV topics would not have been possible without the more than 100 experts in research, programming and advocacy.

The Problem 

Women are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic. For example, women make up more half or more of those living with HIV and young women 15-24 years old are as much as eight times as likely as men to be living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa – the region most affected by HIV (UNAIDS, 2010). In the context of HIV, women face unique risks and have diverse needs influenced by their physical and social environment. Transforming gender norms; advancing education, employment and women’s legal rights; and reducing stigma, discrimination, and violence against women remain urgent priorities in HIV programming.

Awareness of the vulnerability of women and girls to HIV is only the first step. Identifying and implementing HIV programs that address the particular vulnerabilities of women and girls is the next step. When designing HIV and AIDS programs, policymakers and program planners have scarce resources and encounter a wide array of statistics, recommendations, best practices, scientific studies, and public health interventions.  Policymakers and programmers have been forced, at best, to undertake their own research to identify effective programming and, at worst, to base policies and programs on unquestioned practices.  Until now, there has not been one central location to obtain been a clear universal understanding of what works for women and girls.

Actions Taken 

What Works makes gender sensitive HIV resources more widely available by providing a one-stop resource center. Through a comprehensive literature review of published work and gray literature, the What Works team reviews the evidence and distils successful interventions from that evidence. Written in clear language with policymakers and program planners in mind, What Works outlines the interventions that have been proven to work for women and girls, thus providing the evidence base for those designing policies and programs. It also demonstrates the significant gaps in programming for which there are few, if any, evaluated data, thus serving to spur researchers and implementers to design and evaluate additional programming for women and girls. What Works for Women and Girls helps maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of HIV programs by providing, in one place, evidence of successful and promising approaches and interventions. In the words of one advocate, “What Works is absolutely the bottom line…” 

What Works for Women & Girls is available free online, with flash drives of static copies available for those with unreliable internet service, thus putting the evidence into the hands of those who cannot access or afford costly database subscriptions. Outreach efforts to provide technical assistance are underway to achieve the goal of becoming the leading go-to source of evidence on HIV interventions for women and girls, with health and gender ministries, implementing agencies, NGOs, and advocates using the evidence to develop women-friendly, gender transformative HIV policies and programs around the world.

Lessons Learned 

HIV programs and policies must be based on evidence and What Works for Women and Girls provides the available evidence. What Works points out clear interventions that work for women and girls and highlights the supporting evidence. The interventions were not pre-defined with supporting evidence sought. Instead, interventions emerged from the literature reviews. Both authors and experts were at times surprised that almost 30 years into the epidemic, numerous studies do not disaggregate data by sex or consider gender. What Works also demonstrates the need for more evaluation and measurement of innovative programs to add to the list of what works for women and girls. As a resource, What Works for Women & Girls can guide effective, evidence-based programming, and highlight what remains to be done to address the needs of women and girls.